NEW YORK Rappers and other entertainers including Faith Evans, Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z, Wyclef Jean, Lil' Kim and Boyd Tinsley of the Dave Matthews Band mixed charity with nostalgia at a tribute dinner Tuesday for the Notorious B.I.G., who was killed three years ago this month.
"He brought so much to this industry he touched more than rap," said Evans, the Notorious B.I.G.'s widow and the mother of his son, 3-year-old Christopher Wallace Jr. "People in all walks of life know what he did."
"Biggie was one of my favorite hip-hop artists when he was alive and continues to be," said Tinsley, who also said he traveled to New York from Charlottesville, Va., to represent the popular rock band he plays violin in and lend support to Voletta Wallace, the rapper's mother.
Tinsley, wearing shades and short dreadlocks, named "Mo Money, Mo Problems" as his favorite Notorious B.I.G. song.
The $1,000-a-plate tribute at Pier 60, on the Hudson River, raised money for the Christopher Wallace Memorial Foundation, a charity named after the rapper that funds school programs in New York and other East Coast cities. Voletta Wallace, a former teacher, started the charity in 1998. A similar dinner was held a year ago.
Blige and Evans performed during the dinner, which was closed to the media.
'He Was The Official B-Boy'
The Notorious B.I.G. (born Christopher Wallace) was shot and killed March 9, 1997, as he left a party after the Soul Train Awards in Los Angeles. He was 24. His second album, Life After Death, released weeks later, is one of only two hip-hop albums certified 10-times platinum (the other is MC Hammer's Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em.
The 300-plus-pound rapper was known for his playful battle-raps and sexual innuendo, complex rhyming patterns and introspective lyrics that showed a fear of dying young, as on "You're Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)" (RealAudio excerpt), from Life After Death. The singles "Big Poppa" and "One More Chance," from Ready to Die (1994), propelled the rapper to stardom.
"There's not one rapper right now that embodies all the things Big was," said Steph Lova, a DJ at New York's WQHT-FM. "Big was underground, he was street, he was pop he was the official B-boy. The only thing he probably couldn't do was breakdance."
DJ Cipha Sounds, a 23-year-old club DJ who is helping Rawkus Entertainment compile its third Soundbombing mix album, said the Notorious B.I.G. would have frowned upon Born Again, a collection of songs released in December that set the rapper's vocals to new music.
"He didn't write to those beats," Cipha Sounds said. "He was a guy in the studio who sat with the beat for two hours, wrote it down and flowed to that particular piece of music, whereas music had to be fitted without his approval. The vibe wasn't there."
Most guests were in a mood to celebrate and remember the Notorious B.I.G. fondly. "He had a nickname for everybody," the rapper's manager, Mark Pitts said, "Even if he only saw you for five minutes, he had a nickname for you and we still go by those today.
"I was chilling with him a few days before he passed away," said actor Ray-J, who stars with his sister, singer Brandy, on the UPN sitcom "Moesha." "That was the first time I met him and he was real cool. He was just kicking it."
Other guests included actors Dean Winters and Eammon Walker of the HBO prison drama "Oz."
"Anything that's going to help out children, I'm behind," Winters said.
"I'm happy to provide books or supplies to day-care centers and mentoring programs, as well as computers for elementary schools for the kids in the name of my son," said Voletta Wallace, who provided a calm and graceful presence, wearing a black evening gown.
"His mom has chosen a good platform, something he would definitely be proud of," Evans said.